For propagating fake news, the Indian government has recently shut down 22 YouTube news channels (18 Indian & 4 Pakistani) and other social media accounts. This is the first time action has been taken against Indian YouTube-based news providers since the notification of the new Information Technology (IT) Rules, 2021. This reflects the extent of the fake news menace and the threat it poses to the Indian democracy.
What is fake news?
- Fake news is a kind of yellow journalism that comprises intentional misinformation or hoaxes distributed through conventional print, broadcasting news media, or Internet-based social media.
- Fake news is intentionally written in order to gain financially or politically through sensationalist, exaggerated, or false headlines for capturing the attention of the people.
What are the causes of the spread of fake news?
- Internet: Everyone with an internet connection and a social media presence is now a content generator. Free internet service has provided access to everyone to post whatever they want and hence created a trend of fake news spreading like wildfire.
- Not checking authenticity: Everyone is in a hurry to like/share/comment instead of checking the authenticity of the news.
- Lack of regulator: in social media platforms like we have in print or television media.
- Emotions: are trumping reasons when it comes to sharing news. For example, the idea of nation-building is trumping the truth when it comes to sharing stories that have nationalistic messages like India’s progress, Hindu power, and revival of lost Hindu glory without any attempt at fact-checking.
What are the dangers/consequences of fake news with examples?
- Targeting a specific organization or person with an intent to either glorify or bring malice to it.
- Political parties try to get political benefits by polarizing the voter’s mind.
- For example, a news channel was established just to support the accused in Jessica Lal’s Murder Case.
- Another example is the extensive use of social media in influencing public opinion in the last US Presidential election.
- Hoaxes of GPS chips in the Rs 2,000 note after the demonetization initiative of the government through both media and WhatsApp messages led to widespread confusion among holders of the new note.
- Fake news has also been used to deceive illiterate people financially. Example- Chit fund schemes introduced the concept of online fraud through spam emails.
- It affects the spirit of common brotherhood and increases intolerance in the country.
- Example: Spreading fake photos to bring about communal clashes in the country/region.
- 2012 mass exodus of North-Eastern people from Bangalore on false online threats.
- Media companies tend to get easy viewership by means of promoting sensational news.
- For example: branding foreign prisoners as spies or terrorists without valid proof.
- Another example is the fake news circulation in the Kashmir valley showing shocking attacks on the Army and inhumane repression of civilians.
The portrayal of India as an unsafe place for women by international media has created a false image of the nation.
- Fake news results in harassment and threatening of innocent people and damages their reputations.
- It can also result in deaths. For example, rumours about child lifters and cattle thieves led to mob attacks and deaths across India.
Faith in media:
Fake news reduced people’s belief in social, print, and electronic media = affecting the benefits of these media.
What are the concerns/challenges with preventing fake news on social media?
- User-generated content: It is unreasonable to put the blame on the social media platforms for the fake news menace. Because the platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, etc. are not generating the content, but by the users themselves = cannot hold all of them responsible. So rather than forcing a solution on technology providers alone, the centre needs to address the consumer end as well and adopt a collaborative way to tackle the menace of fake news.
- Privacy rights: Security requirements should also consider the rights of millions of genuine users as traceability would undermine the end-to-end encryption, and weaken consumer privacy and cybersecurity.
- Need for high encryption: Data leaks at Facebook and Uber in the recent past have shown that the encryption has to be so high.
- The welfare of Indians: It could actually affect the welfare of Indian digital users. For instance, WhatsApp is crucial for rural people to cheaply connect with their family members far away and also send pictures of their products to clients all over India.
- Jurisdiction issues: As WhatsApp users converse outside Indian boundaries, the storage of foreign users’ data could come with its own jurisdiction issues.
How to tackle it?
- Digital Literacy: An effective approach to deal with fake news is to improve digital literacy i.e., the ability to identify real news from fake news. Government, media, and technology should work together to improve the overall digital literacy in India.
- Policy: The government needs to come up with an effective policy framework to control fake news on social media platforms.
- Ombudsman: should be created to deal with the credibility of news sources and also ensure facts are reported.
- An Independent agency: should be established to verify the data being circulated on social and other media.
- Innovative approaches:
- With the utilization of metadata (data about data) and human content moderation, WhatsApp could prevent fake news, and misinformation and even punish bad actors, without breaking end-to-end encryption.
- When a message is reported and identified as fake, it should be permanently tagged = if someone tries to circulate it months later, it should only be transmitted with a statutory warning.
- Police machinery: The state police machinery should be strengthened to catch anyone responsible for spreading fake messages.
- Hefty fines: Similar to Germany, India should also impose hefty fines on Social media companies if they constantly fail to remove illegal content from their platforms.
- Internal mechanisms: Print and Electronic media should have an internal ombudsman to verify incidents, facts, and figures.
- Role of NGOs: and other civil society organisations in spreading awareness about the ill effects of fake news.
In today’s technologically developed and connected world, fake news poses a grave risk to the democratic setup. Proper actions need to be taken to ensure the distinction between news, opinion, and rumour. Fake news has great implications for society. Hence it is high time that the government takes stern measures to curb the fake news menace and protect Indian democracy.